The characters of Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, and Argo and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles, and back-story are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. The story is written only for fun, and no profit is being made. All other characters such as Tarren, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. The story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. The story itself as well as the character created by the author may NOT be duplicated or archived without the authors permission. All works remain the copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the authors consent. This story is a continuation of my first story called SHE HAS MY EYES, and you really MUST read that one first. Otherwise you will be lost as to who some of the characters I have created are. This story contains some violence, and the use or reference of corporal punishment. I will be putting that statement in all of the Tarren series whether it exists or not in that particular story. Please understand that this does NOT reflect on my personal beliefs or politics. I am just trying to stay true to the characters and culture of that period of history. Feedback is always appreciated and I would like to thank all that have taken the time to write me with your thoughts on my first story. I hope you enjoy this story as well and will continue to write.
Hurt/comfort- well you may need a Kleenex in a few spots if you are like me.
On The Road Again
Chapter 1 Like Mother, like Daughter
Tarren hugged tightly to the tree as she cautiously sat on the branches high above hidden only by the thick of the leaves and her own desire not to be seen. The enemy below was close, too close, and her discovery would mean certain torture. The youngster pulled her legs in close to her chest trying, as Xena had taught her, to become one with the natural world around her. The sounds of the approaching footsteps sent a quick chill up the childs spine and she glanced down to the path below. Surely she had not been found. Moving ever so slightly forward she leaned over and caught sight of the approaching enemy poking through the brush in search of her. She could only smile at her own cleverness at choosing such a successful place to hide.
"TARREN! You better come out. I have a lot to do and I am not spending my morning playing hide and seek just because you dont want to take a bath," the bard yelled into the echo of the woods. There was no response.
Gabrielle angrily kicked the dirt in front of her knowing the child was somewhere in the trees above. She and Xena took turns seeing to the childs bathing, and every time it was the bards turn Tarren disappeared.
The bard looked up into the high branches, covering her eyes with her hand to block out the suns glare. "Tarren! If you are up in one of those high trees you better come down RIGHT NOW! If Xena finds you up there, youre really gonna get it. You know she told you NOT to climb them." There was no response, and the bards shoulders slumped in defeat. "Why do you only do this when its my turn to bathe you?" she whined.
The child smiled at the silly question. The answer was so obvious. She wasnt gonna run from Xena. She was young maybe, but no fool. Besides when she did try to hide from the warrior she was always found quickly, and the bath always then turned out to be more long and painful then usual. The youngster shuddered at the thought.
Tarren glanced down at the figure of her friend, noting the scowl that ran across the usually smiling bards face. The child did not want to get in trouble with Xena, but nor did she want to take a bath. "If I come down do I still have to take a bath?" the girl yelled hoping to make a deal.
Gabrielle looked above hearing the voice echoing through the treetops, but not able to see where the sound had come from. "By the gods that child must be sitting on the clouds themselves." the bard thought scanning the branches above her.
Tarren sat patiently waiting for a reply, taking a bite out of an apple hanging on a branch just above her. She smiled wickedly at the still searching bard.
There was the sound of another apple being pulled from a branch far above followed by a loud crunch. "Yes, you do have to take a bath!" said a low, husky voice from behind. Tarren turned her head just a bit to see the Warrior Princess standing on the branch beside her. "Xena!" she said with a weak smile. "How does she always know where I am?" the child thought.
The warrior glared at the youngster allowing a bit of her frustration to touch her words. "I told you to stay OUT of these high trees didnt I?" the large figure said sternly bending her head waiting for a response.
The girl lowered her head a bit not wanting to meet the warriors harsh gaze. "Yes!" was her simple and sullen reply.
Xena shook her head and tossed her apple to the ground below. "Well, this is your very last warning Tarren. If I so much as SEE YOU looking up at one of these big trees, youll be eating these apples standing up for a month. THAT is a promise from ME to you! Understand?" she finished in a parental tone. The girl nodded, knowing from experience that the warrior wasnt kidding.
Xena was torn between her anger at the childs disobedience and a certain pride at the agility, which allowed her to make it into such difficult positions with such ease. The great warrior eyed the girl for a moment, and then, looking down at her still searching friend below, suppressed a grin.
"Come on!" she said taking the child by the arm with a gentle tug. Tarren quickly placed a few apples inside her tunic, "Im sorry," she said with a weak smile. Xena just shook he head and sighed. "Well take the fast way down." With that the warrior grabbed Tarren by the waist and jumped from the branch somersaulting in midair before landing on the ground next to Gabrielle.
Xena held the struggling girl by the scruff of the neck, "Is this what you are looking for, my friend?" the warrior said, offering her find to the angry bard.
Gabrielle looked at Xena and then Tarren, "Dont tell me she was all the way up top again," the bard scolded.
The warrior folded her arms and nodded. Now, the child had two sets of eyes glaring down at her. "But she wont be going up there again. Right?" the warrior, asked with a smug look.
The girl paused and Xena landed a fast swat across her bottom to remind her of an earlier promise. "Ouch! Right! Right!" the child said, rubbing the sting of Xenas hand away.
Gabrielle threw her arms up in the air in frustration, "Tarren, I do not know what your problem is about taking a bath, but Ive HAD it. I have supper to cook, and I need to finish my scroll if I plan to enter it in the Great Bards Competition in Athens this week. I do NOT have time to play with you right now," she growled at the youngster.
The bard shook her head and with the flick of her wrist tossed Xena the linen towel and satchel containing all their bathing instruments. "YOU do it. I give up!" the bard mumbled and stomped off back towards camp.
Xena fumbled with the satchel and then scowled at the youngster. "You better not say one word! Not one single word," the warrior muttered pointing towards the bathing area below. Tarren lowered her eyes and headed down the path with an angry warrior a quick pace behind her.
When they reached the waters edge there was a small hot spring that Gabrielle had considered the ideal bathing area. Tarren looked into the water sighing heavily, not wanting to be immersed in the vile clean water.
"Do you get undressed, or do I undress YOU?" Xena purred, standing with her arms folded in controlled anger. Tarren swallowed hard and quickly removed her boots and clothing and unwillingly got in the water. "Hmm, too bad. I was sort of hoping youd give me a hard time just this once," the warrior chided as she lowered herself to the waters edge and began the task of scrubbing the girls arms with the bar of soap and a linen cloth.
"OUCH!" the youngster cried, jumping away from Xenas reach. "Youre taking my skin off," she yelled, rubbing a tender but clean spot on her arm.
"Stk. Stk. sorry!" the warrior purred motioning the girl to return to her place.
"Xena, are you gonna be mad at me all through this? Because, if you are, I think Id rather just stay dirty for a while, " Tarren whispered with an impish grin.
The warrior noted the familiar expression was the same that her brother Lyceus had used whenever she was angry with him. The thought of that memory softened her temper a bit. "I just want you to behave yourself, and you are going to apologize to Gabrielle!" the warrior warned.
The girl quickly nodded, "OK!"
Xena gave her a cold stare, and the child rethought her words. "I mean, yes maam!" she said with a mock salute.
The warrior had to suppress a grin. Maam was not a term she was used to, but, every once in a while she liked to hear Tarren use it just so the child was reminded of their positions in life as well as the importance of manners. Growing up in such solitude and without proper guidance, the girl was desperately lacking in good manners. The warrior nodded approvingly. "Good! Now get over here, and lets get you cleaned up," she said with a slight smile.
Tarren cautiously moved back to her spot near the warrior who once again began washing the child. This time, much to her childs relief, Xena gently caressed her arms with the cloth, leaving the skin where it belonged.
"Xena, why is Gabby in such a bad mood?" the girl asked as the large muscular hands scrubbed soap into her hair.
The warrior thought about the question and smiled at the childs idea of a bad mood. The little bard definitely did have a temper, and it had been flaring up a bit lately, more than usual.
"Well, I think she is just a bit anxious to enter this contest in Athens. Last year, she missed it because we were caught in a battle. She had been really excited about going, but we just didnt make it there in time. So, this year, she really wants to get there quickly. Its important to her to be recognized for something that shes passionate about."
The girl pondered the warriors words as Xena finished soaping her hair.
"Hold you breathe," the warrior said with a smile as she pushed the girls head under the water to rinse the soap out.
The child came up shaking her head and sputtering water. "I hate that!" she said pouting.
Xena merely shrugged, offering a sympathetic smile.
"Am I done?" Tarren asked watching the warrior put the soap back in its pouch.
"Yeah, I guess youre as clean as you are ever gonna get!" she teased pulling the dripping girl from the water.
"Then can we go for a swim or go fishing?" she begged with an eager smile, her voice filled with anticipation at the warriors response.
Xena glanced down and studied the grinning young face whose pleading eyes wanted a taste of adventure. She had to sympathize as she often felt the same urge to break free of constraints herself. "After the way you behaved this morning? Do you think I should take you swimming or fishing with me?" she asked in a slightly scolding tone.
Tarren settled back in the water shaking her head, sulking at the warriors words.
Xena bit her lower lip and then shook her own head. "I am such a softy. I dont know what is happening to me. Come on, dry yourself off, and well go catch breakfast."
In a flash the child was again out of the water, dry, and dressed.
"You should move that fast when its time to get IN to the bath, little girl," the warrior chided. Tarren tried to hide her grin, but Xena saw it. "Uh huh...Come on, lets go before I decide Im making a mistake." Soon the two were off for a morning of fishing and swimming full of freedom and laughter.
Hours later, the pair returned to camp laughing, and Xena holding a string of fish in her hand.
The bard glanced up from her writing. "Huh! I see you even took her fishing. Dont be too hard on the kid," Gabrielle said with a slight glare and an angry tone.
The warriors smile faded at the harshness of her friend. It was very unlike her to push for Tarren to ever be punished. If anything she was always the childs best defender.
"Gabrielle, Tarren and I had a very long talk, and I promise you things will be different. "Right, Tarren?" the warrior said elbowing the girl in the direction of the bard.
The child shook her head in confusion and then jumped a bit as Xena grabbed her by the back of the neck. That tight grasp shook her memories free. "Yeah right MUCH different!"
The bard shook her head. "Of course they will," she said in disbelief and returned her attention to her scrolls.
Xena gave the child a message with her eyes. Tarren moved closer to Gabrielle, sitting right next to her on the fallen log the bard had been using as a chair. "Youre not still mad at me, Gabby are ya?"
The bard looked into the face of the child whose eyes were now wide, and her lower lip curled in sadness. Gabrielle dropped her quill. "You dont really think that is gonna work on me do you? I taught YOU that expression to get around Xena." The bard stopped but not before catching an angry glare from the warrior. Gabrielle shook it off. "I mean A pouting face is not gonna get you anything, Tarren."
The child sat up, disappointed by the outcome of her efforts. She sighed, placing her hand under her chin. "OK, Gabby, if you dont want to be my friend anymore, I understand." the child said, kicking at the dirt.
Xena raised her eyebrows in disbelief at the girls obvious dramatics, but the bard swallowed hard and turned to the child. "Hey, just because Im mad at you doesnt mean we are not friends. You should know that!" she said with a stern shake of her finger.
The little girl turned to face the bard "HOW should I know that?" she whined, lowering her lip and widening her eyes even further than Gabrielle had thought possible.
It was that look that made the bards wall of anger crumble. "Come here, ya little brat!" she said reaching out her hands. "You know I love ya!"
The child quickly embraced her friend who squeezed her with all her might. "Im sorry Gabrielle," the child whispered.
The bard just cupped the youngsters face in her hands. "No big deal. Im used to being abused by much bigger than you," she said with a grin, eyeing the warriors grim face.
Tarren reached inside her tunic and pulled out an apple. She offered it to the bard, "Whats this?" she asked with a smile.
"A peace offering!" the child chirped.
Gabrielle looked at the warrior who hid a slight smile. "Gee, I wonder where you got the idea of FOOD for a peace offering," the bard laughed, hugging the youngster. She bit into the apple, and her eyes lit up in delight as the juices slid down her chin.
"Tarren, this is delicious. Are there any more we can take on the road with us?" she asked hopefully.
The girl nodded. "Yes but " The warrior stopped her with a quick glare of her blue blazon eyes. "But those are in a tree WAY too high for you to climb, Right, Tarren!" Xena said, slowly raising her eyes to meet those of the childs.
The girl reluctantly nodded. "Yeah, but there is a smaller tree down by the water, Xena. I can get those easily!"
The warrior knew she was right because she had seen the tree earlier in the day. She thought, for a moment and then nodded. "OK, go, but you stay out of the high trees, got it?" she said in a stern voice. The child nodded and quickly scurried down the path.
Xena then quietly slid over to Gabrielle and placed an arm around her shoulder, squeezing really hard. "Now my little friend, what is this LOOK you have been teaching Tarren?" she asked with a smile. The bard choked on her apple trying to wriggle free. Xena noted the sour expression on her friends face and released her. This was obviously NOT a time for play. The warrior sat down on an adjacent log and pulled her sword out of its sheath ready to run the stone along its edges.
"Dont even think about it!" the bard yelled. Xena placed the sword beside her and stood hovering above the young bard, "Thats it. Ive had enough! Gabrielle, you have been biting my head off for the last week. You even have Tarren afraid to go near you. We dont do anything right anymore. Now what is your problem?" she yelled, her voice full of frustration.
The bard dropped her quill and stood to face her friend. "Look, I have had to put up with enough of your bad moods to last a life time. I am trying very hard to get something acceptable written before we reach Athens. THAT is important to ME. I know YOU think its silly, warrior, but this competition means a lot to me," the bard finished angrily, dropping to her seat once again.
The warrior folded her muscular arms and studied her friend. She had never seen her so upset over something like this before. The warrior was angry at her friends accusations and sympathetic to her pain as well. She knelt beside her, contemplating her words.
"Gabrielle, I have NEVER once thought your stories were silly. I think you are a wonderful bard. You know that. I told you that we will make Athens in plenty of time for the contest," she said evenly.
The warrior was angry at her friends accusations and sympathetic of her pain as well. The bard covered her face with her hands, "Xena, Im sorry. I dont mean to be so snippy, but I need to know that people other than my friends and family appreciate my work. All I am asking for is a little peace and quiet for a few days," she said wringing her hands in frustration.
Xena sighed heavily. "Look if you want quiet then quiet is what you will have my friend," the warrior said gently as she returned to her place. She sheathed her sword and pulled out her saddlebags. She had been meaning to put a new strap on the front and now seemed like an ideal time for such quiet work.
The bard eyed her friend sadly. She had not meant to chase her away or to hurt her feelings. Xena was only trying to help, and she had pushed her away. Gabrielle searched for something to mend the rift, but for once the bard was short on the right words.
Tarren ran through the woods happy to be free of the constraints of rules and baths and any other thing that hindered her spirit from roaming free. The child headed toward the small apple tree down by the water where the promised apples hung.
When she passed the tall trees that Xena had found her in earlier, she stopped. "Hmm, seems a shame to make such a long walk all the way down to the water when I can make a quick climb right here and get what we need. What Xena doesnt know wont hurt ME," she whispered to herself with a giggle as she jumped to the lowest branch. Quickly she removed her tunic and tossed it to the ground. She then swung from branch to branch until she had reached the near top of the tree, where the largest nest of apples was hidden. Carefully she picked them one by one and tossed them to the ground below. She counted them as she picked. "6,7,8, 9 that should be enough to satisfy even Gabrielle," she said with a snicker. Tarren grabbed onto the nearest branch and began her descent with all the skill of a small warrior princess.
When she was half way down she reached for a branch that was too weak to hold even her slight form. It snapped and down she went, hitting the ground below with a loud thud.
The child shook her head and tried to rise, but there was a shooting bolt of pain in her right arm and she fell back to the ground. Glancing quickly over at her arm she noted a large gash. The child winced and cried as she felt all the air leave her lungs. She was tempted to call for Xena but then she remembered her warning about the tall trees and decided against it. The youngster looked at the gash on her arm. The blood was steadily flowing from it, and her shoulder ached at just the slightest movement.
Fear raced through the mind of the youngster as she again tried to stand up. She had to get cleaned up before Xena and Gabrielle came looking for her. Tarren picked up her tunic. The wounded child headed for the stream, where she carefully washed the bloody wound as best she could and tore off a piece of her undergarment to use as a bandage. She winced as she saw the blood soak quickly through the linen.
"I cant let them see this. Xena will kill me," she wailed, holding her shoulder. Tears poured from her eyes. Tarren painfully put her tunic on once again. With a splash of water, she wiped the dirt and tears from her eyes and hands. She stood, steadied herself a bit, and slowly headed back to where she had fallen.
Every movement of her body sent searing pain through the youngsters body as she picked up as many as the apples as she could with her good arm. She was no longer able to move her right arm from its position at all.
"I will not keep Gabrielle from that contest. I dont want her hating me," she cried to whatever gods guided wayward children.
Placing the apples inside her tunic she took a quick accounting of herself. Her face was clean, as were her hands. The sleeve of her tunic covered her bloody wound. She knew that she could not hide this from Xena very long and her demise was inevitable, but at least she could hold out until they reached Athens.
The child took a deep breathe and headed back to the camp, trying to place a smile on her face, but the bounce in her step was gone, and the innocence in her eyes was lost.
Tarren walked into camp and noted happily that the warrior and the bard were both deeply involved in their work. They were not even speaking to one another. Gabrielle was writing in her scroll, and Xena was sewing a piece of leather onto her saddlebags.
Noticing the youngsters approach, Xena gazed up and offered the child a friendly smile. "The great hunter returns. Did ya get the apples?"
Tarren grinned. As if showing the warrior the ease with which they were obtained, she reached in with her left hand, and one by one tossed the apples into the basket at the bards feet and then bowed.
The warrior nodded approvingly. "Very good," she said not taking her eyes off the small form in front of her. "What took ya so long?" she asked, still studying the girls stiff stance suspiciously.
The child knew that a barrage of questions would be a problem. She needed to sidetrack the suspicious warrior. Mustering as much attitude as she could and dropping the smile from her face, she replied in a cocky tone, "I sat under the tree for a while. Do I need permission for that too, warrior?" The child knew how Xena hated the use of that title.
"Excuse me? What is your problem?" the warrior moaned, startled by the girls smug response. Tarren quickly sat beside the fire, careful not to move her arm. If the warriors glance caught pain on her face, Tarren knew all would be lost.
The bard jumped up, waving her hands in the air. "Now, now, I think we are all just hungry. Its been a long day, so lets just have some dinner and relax. Im even putting my scrolls away for the night," the bard said, trying to ease the growing tension with a bit of diplomacy.
Xena sighed heavily and dismissed the childs attitude returning her concentration to her work.
Gabrielle handed Tarren a plate of food, which the child looked at with both hunger and confusion. If she didnt eat with her right hand, Xena would know something was wrong. She needed to pass on dinner quickly. This was not going to be easy.
"Fish again. Im sick of fish," she said, dropping the plate on the ground at the bards feet. That was that.
Xena dropped her saddlebags and jumping to her feet. Standing over the impudent child, she said, "I dont know what has gotten into you, but I wont have it! Now, you either apologize to Gabrielle for that remark, or you can just got to bed NOW without supper!" Her eyes never wavered from the little girls face.
The child gave her answer by scooting on the ground to her bedroll and quickly burying herself in the blankets.
Xena watched in disbelief, as did the bard. "Fine, suit your self," the warrior said in an angry whisper as she returned to her saddlebags.
Gabrielle stared at Xena, who just raised her hands in the air, offering no answer to the confused bard.
Underneath the blankets, Tarren shed a tear for both the pain she felt and the hurt she knew she had caused.
Chapter 2 Faith and Forgiveness
As the sun broke over the horizon, Tarren glanced over and saw the still sleeping forms of Xena and Gabrielle by her side. She had not slept much through the night. She knew that her bandage was soaked with blood, and she wanted to clean it before anyone else was awake. Slowly, she tiptoed out of camp and headed for the stream.
The warrior opened one eye but did not move from her place.
The child knew that the swelling on her arm and the size and the depth of the gash were bad signs. She shredded more of her undergarment to use as a bandage. Carefully, she wrapped the bandage around her wound once again and replaced her tunic. She tossed the blood soaked cloth into the water and watched it float way. She then sat there wishing she had never climbed that tree and wanting to just tell Xena that she was hurt. She wanted comfort. She wanted to cry. She wanted help, none was to be had at that moment. She would gladly accept her punishment from the warrior if it meant the awful pain and fear she felt would go away.
But what of Gabrielles contest? Tarren knew that her presence among the woman slowed them down and made them change their routes to slower but safer ones. She did not want to be the cause of ruining something that was obviously so important to the bard by slowing them down even more. Fighting back tears, the child sat by the water and held her shoulder.
"So do you want to tell me what last night was all about?" a husky voice from behind asked.
Tarren turned slowly and stared at the large, muscular figure of the Warrior Princess. She lowered her eyes and shook her head.
Xena crouched down beside her. "OK, suit yourself, but I dont want to see any more of it today. Do you understand me?" she said in a no nonsense tone.
The child looked into the warriors eyes and almost spoke, but held back her words and again just nodded.
Xena could see the pain in the childs eyes in that flash. "Tarren, if something is wrong, you have to tell me. I cant help you if you dont tell me whats bothering you," the warrior said softly, touching the childs head.
Tarren quickly got to her feet afraid the warrior would accidentally touch her arm. "Nothings wrong, Xena. Im fine. I just want to be left alone OK?" she said, sprinting towards the camp.
The warrior stood and looked after the running child with a puzzled gaze, "No its not OK!" she whispered to the wind that flew through her hair as she slowly headed back to camp. She could sense there was something wrong, but she wasnt sure what it was yet.
Tarren slowed to a walk as she entered the camp and was greeted by the smiling bard. She handed her an apple and grinned. "You must be hungry after missing dinner," the bard said with a smile.
The child took the food, grateful not to have to again explain a lack of interest in eating from a plate.
The bard smiled as she watched the child devour the food.
"Gabrielle, how far is it to Athens?" Tarren asked tossing the skeletal remains of the apple to the ground.
The bard looked at her, confused by the childs obvious urgency. "Well, I guess its about two or three days from here: Why?" she asked folding her arms in confusion.
The girl stammered a bit, walking away from her friend. "No reason; Just curious how much longer wed be on this road, thats all. I wouldnt want you to be late for the contest," the child said with a forced grin.
The bard nodded, "Oh No, thats not gonna happen this time. We will make it in plenty of time. I have Xenas word on that!" she said with conviction. Gabrielle started packing her things away and cleaning up the camp sight.
Xena quickly walked into view but merely passed by the pair without so much as a glance at Tarren or Gabrielle. She threw her saddlebags over Argos back and tugged at her reigns gently. "Come on, you two. Lets get going," she said, studying Tarren.
The child heaved her satchel onto her good shoulder and headed out onto the road. The youngster trying to keep a good distance ahead of her companions, so as not to be forced into conversation. She could not risk showing the great pain that she was feeling or the dizziness that was sweeping through her body.
"Xena whats wrong with her? I mean I know she can be a bit hard to handle at times, but this doesnt seem like her at all. Shes sullen and distant." The concern in the bard's face was obvious.
They had been walking for less than half the morning with Tarren staying at least 10 paces ahead of them at all times. Any time the warrior or the bard spoke to her, she just waved to them with a hand, never even turning around.
The warrior studied the childs movements carefully. She noticed the youngster barely moved her arms that her pace was not consistent yet she took faster steps any time Xena or Gabrielle tried to approach. "I dont know whats wrong but I am more than a little tired of playing guessing games with this kid. Tarren, stop!" she yelled tossing the bard Argos reins.
Xena took a few giant strides until she was staring down at the child. "OK, Tarren, enough is enough. First, you were a brat at dinner last night, and now you are treating us like we have the plague. We are not moving from this spot until you tell me what is wrong?" The warrior folded her arms stubbornly and waited for a reply.
The small face of the little girl turned slightly, and Xena could see the dry tears on her cheeks and the great pain in her eyes. Her normally soft face was red and flushed.
Xena fell to one knee and faced the child, dropping her voice to its softest tone, "What is it, Tarren? Tell me whats wrong," she said gently grabbing the childs arms to draw her closer.
The girl screamed in pain at the touch and fell backward, caught only by the warriors grip.
"Youre hurt!" the warrior yelled, staring into the eyes of her daughter.
Gabrielle tied Argo to a branch and raced to the side of the warrior. "What is it?" she asked, staring at the young girl.
Xena looked at the bard and then Tarren who now had fresh tears falling down her cheeks.
The bard reached out to touch her face "Whats wrong honey?" she asked as the child winced at the thought of a touch.
Xena stood and with a quick swipe lifted the girl into her arms avoiding the obviously ailing part of Tarrens body. "Gabrielle, get Argo and meet me down the path. There is a small clearing next to a stream where we will make camp."
"NO!" the little girl cried. She tried to free herself from Xenas arms but was unable to muster any great effort to do so. "We wont make Athens in time if we dont keep going," The youngster yelled.
The warrior looked at Gabrielle whose shoulders slumped at the importance the child had placed on their destination. She felt pangs of guilt rushing through her body for having made the contest seem so important.
Xena tightened her hold on Tarren and sprinted down the path.
"Well, little one, that may or may not be so, but right now you are getting a full examination by me whether you like it or not," the warrior said sternly.
When they reached the clearing, Xena placed the child gently down on some high grass. "Now, are you going to tell me exactly where the pain is, or do I have to find it myself," the warrior said prepared for either direction.
The childs sobs quieted a bit as she looked into the blue gaze of her friend and guardian. "Im sorry, Xena. I I...fell out of the tree and "
The warriors eyes flew wide open, and she silenced the girl. There was not merely anger in her eyes but great fear. "Which tree, Tarren? How far did you fall?" she asked trying to steady her voice, knowing that a fall from a very high tree could mean internal bleeding.
The little girl wiped the tears from her face. "The one you said not to climb. I guess I fell from a bit less than half way down," she cried lowering her eyes.
Xena tried to regain her composure a bit. She had to work fast. "Where are you hurt?" the warrior asked, running her hands up and down the childs legs and abdomen looking for any sign of damage.
"My arm and shoulder. Xena, I cant move my shoulder," the child whispered through a sob.
The warrior caressed Tarrens cheek and slowly removed her tunic to see the damage.
Gabrielle had just arrived, and Xena asked for the medical pouch. She took one look at the girls shoulder and knew it was dislocated. The great warrior cringed at the thought of the pain the child must have been experiencing. She quickly removed the bloody bandage and saw the deep gash still oozing blood.
"Damn, this will have to be sewn." Xena looked down at the frightened face of her daughter as she tried to control her own anger and fear. "Why? Why didnt you tell me you were hurt? Why didnt you let me help you?" she scolded, angered by the childs reckless act and foolish behavior as well as her own failure to recognize the injury sooner.
"I didnt want you to get mad at me for climbing the tree, and I didnt want Gabrielle to miss her contest because of me."
The bard fell to the ground beside the child. "Hey, stop right there! If you dont know that you are more important to me than any contest, then someone has definitely not been paying attention," she scolded.
Xena smiled at the bard grateful that she cared so much for the child as to put her own needs and desires away.
"Gabby, you said you wouldnt miss it for anything!" the girl whispered.
The bard shook her head, angry with herself for making such a big deal over the contest, "Tarren that does NOT include you. There are other contests, but there is only one you." She gently scolded, wiping the sweat from the childs forehead. The youngster shook her head in disbelief at the bards words.
Xena worked fast, gently cleaning the wound. She eyed the child as the bard started a fire. "Tarren, I wont lie to you. This is going to hurt. I can deaden the pain a bit with a nerve pinch, but youll still feel it some," she said in an even but tender tone.
The little girl nodded, knowing that Xena was worried. "Xena, are you mad at me?" she asked through her tears staring up at the leather clad form of her friend.
The warrior tried to smile. "What do you think?" she quickly replied.
Tarren nodded, "I think youre mad at me," the little girl whispered never taking her eyes off the great warrior.
Xena nodded in agreement, "I think youre right, but thats something we WILL discuss when you are feeling a little better. Right now all I care about is that you are well, ya got it?" she said wiping the childs cheek gently dry with her hand.
Tarren sniffled and nodded, knowing the warrior was fighting back her own tears as she looked at the open wound she was now ready to sew.
Gabrielle brought over a heated needle and thread.
"Gabrielle, hold her head," Xena ordered.
The bard dropped to her knees and took the girls head gently in her hands.
Xena offered the girl a stick to bite on before giving a swift pinch to a nerve to dull the pain. Then, she quickly blocked out the sounds of the sobbing child and the image of the bards worried face and sewed nine stitches neatly into the wound.
Gabrielle wiped the tears from Tarrens face and the sweat from her own brow as Xena removed the stick from the girls mouth.
"Done!" she said looking into the face of her child and caressing her cheek, knowing from experience the excruciating pain she was feeling. The great warrior kissed her gently on the forehead, and with a quick movement of her fingers removed the pinch that had dulled the youngsters pain. Tears flowed steadily out of the corners of Tarrens eyes, but Xena could say nothing more than "Its OK. Im right here with you."
Tarren nodded trying to hide the pain that she knew hurt the warrior to see. "Its OK, Xena. Im all right," she said her voice shaking with each word.
The warrior smiled a bit, "I know you are, little one...I know."
Xena rose from her spot and began mixing a poultice to place over the wound.
Gabrielle caught the eye of her friend, who motioned for her to join her by the fire. "How bad is it?" the bard asked with concern.
Xena continued mashing the herbs into a paste and shook her head. "Well, that wound is infected. She has a slight fever. If she had come to me when it happened..." the warriors words trailed off. "Gabrielle its going to be a very long night." She said evenly. "I have to set that shoulder NOW!" Xena said, swallowing hard at the thought of her next task.
The bard winced at the thought of the pain the child felt and would feel, and she could see the agony in the great warriors face as well. The bard placed a loving hand on her friends shoulder, and the warrior nodded in gratitude.
"Mix the white powder into a tea, and bring it over. We have to get that fever down and control that infection," she whispered.
The bard nodded and went to her task. "Are you sure you want to give her this?" the young woman asked knowing its effects could be strong.
The warrior nodded. "We dont have much choice Gabrielle," she said quickly.
Gabrielle quickly continued her task, finding it hard to find the right words to speak in the midst of all the suffering she knew both of her friends were feeling.
Xena knelt next to the child who was struggling to sit up. She placed a gentle but firm hand on her pushing her back down, "Stay put!" she said in a menacingly no nonsense tone. She then placed the paste over the wound and wrapped it carefully in linen bandage.
Gabrielle brought the tea over and handed the mug to Xena. "Tarren, you have to drink this all down," Xena said placing the small mug near the childs lips and holding her head up.
The smell of the vile mixture made the girl turn away. "No way! That stuff smells bad! Im not drinking it," she said pulling away.
Xena had no time to coddle her. "Look, you have to drink it! It will make you feel better," she said trying not to allow anger into her voice.
"NO!" the child said, as she pushed the mug away with her free hand.
Xenas patience was gone. "LOOK, you are going to either drink this on your own, or I am going to sit on you and pour it down your throat. One way or the other it IS going in. Understand?" the warrior, yelled.
Gabrielle quickly moved to the childs side and gently caressed her arm.
"Tarren, Xena just wants you to take this medicine so youll feel better. I know it smells bad, but I promise it will help you feel much better if you drink it. Please!" the bard, said with a gentle smile.
The girl was taken back by her friends pleading tone and slowly submitted to the mugs presence, drinking the contents without further protest.
Xena sighed and nodded at Gabrielle. "You still have that touch my friend," she whispered.
The bard nodded and kissed Tarrens cheek. "Thank you!"
Xena placed the mug to one side of her. "Im sorry, Tarren. Im only doing what I have to do to help you get better. I dont want to yell at you, but you have to do as I say. We cant play games now, OK?" she said gently wiping the hair from the youngsters face.
The child nodded. "Im sorry to be so much trouble, Xena. I know you sort of got stuck with me when Nala asked you to take me," the girl said with a quick yawn.
Xenas face went blank as she grabbed the childs tunic. "Tarren, I did not take you because I had to. I took you with me because I wanted to. I want you with me. I REALLY want you here with me! Do you understand that?"
The child held the warriors gaze for a moment and smiled. "Ya do?"
Xena nodded and caressed the youngsters warm cheek. "Of course I do. How could you think anything different?"
The child shrugged and then yawned again. The herbs were taking effect and this conversation would have to wait with others on the warriors agenda.
"Hey we both want you here. Right Xena?" the bard added placing a gentle hand on her friend.
"Right!" she said without hesitation.
Tarren smiled at the two woman seated next to her and then yawned again.
Xena took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "Tarren, I have to set your shoulder. Its OK if you want to yell out!" she said gently watching the little girls eyes blink in understanding.
The bard held tightly to the childs head once again.
Xena took Tarrens hand in her own, placing her foot cautiously under the little girls arm. She squeezed the childs hand lightly and smiled, allowing her blue eyes to lock with those of her daughters, and then with a yank pulled the shoulder back into place.
The child groaned in agony but never yelled out. Tarren never let her blue gaze break with that of her guardian. As the warrior lowered the girls arm gently to the ground, the childs eyes closed in blackness.
"Shes unconscious," the warrior said, wiping a tear from her face and eyeing the tears on the bards cheeks. "Come on, lets get a sling on that shoulder," the warrior said wrapping linen around the Tarrens arm to keep it from moving. The child only grimaced a bit but did not wake. For that both the warrior and bard were grateful. Gabrielle got cold cloths soaked in water from the stream and placed them on the Tarrens shoulder to bring down the swelling. Then the two friends who had traveled together for so long, watched and waited as the child slept.
Xena lay next to her daughter, wiping beads of sweat away with a damp cloth. Gabrielle sat beside her holding Tarrens hand so she knew that she was not alone, even for a second.
"Xena?" The warrior looked up at her friend. "Huh?"
"Are you OK?"
The warrior nodded. "Well, I dont know what bothers me more, the fact that she climbed those damned trees after I told her so many times not too, or the fact that she didnt come to me when she was hurt."
The bard nodded. "I was thinking sort of the same thing. How could she think my contest was something MORE important than her?" Are we doing something wrong?"
The warrior stood and stretched out her muscles a bit "No, Gabrielle, she is!" the warrior said thinking of the days events.
As the morning came, the eyes of the sleepy child opened. She saw the face of the warrior and bard looking down at her. "Good morning, sleepy head," Gabrielle said as Xena felt Tarrens cool forehead and sighed with relief at the absence of the fever.
Next, the warrior examined the wound and replaced the bandage. The child grimaced at the pain in her shoulder but was happy to find that now she could move it a little.
"It will be a few days before you can use that arm, so you better get used to being waited on for a while," the warrior said with a gentle smile.
Gabrielle offered the child some food that she happily devoured from the plate. Xena was relieved to see she was hungry. It was a good sign. The danger had passed. The girl started to rise, but once again Xena stopped her. "NO! Not you cant get up just yet, Tarren. You need your rest. We will stay here for a few days."
The child lowered her head in submission, but when Gabrielle went down to the stream to fill the water bags the child spoke. "Xena, I want Gabrielle to get to Athens. Please if we leave now we can still make it," the youngster pleaded.
The warrior looked at the child sympathetically. "Tarren, you are in no condition to travel right now," she said stiffly.
"Xena, I can ride on Argo. I dont want Gabby to miss this contest because of me. Shell hate me, Xena," she cried hoping to change the warriors mind.
Xena folded her arms and sighed. She knew that Gabrielle would never hate the child, but it was more important that Tarren realize that. "NO, Tarren, you have to rest, and that is the last I want to hear about it," The warrior said sternly.
The girls eyes filled with tears as she turned her face away from the warrior.
Xena knelt beside her and whispered, "Tarren, no one is gonna hate you for getting hurt. Gabrielle loves you."
The little girl said nothing. She just lay there staring up at the sky.
The warrior gently pulled the blankets up to cover the small form. "You stay put, got it?" she warned.
The girl blinked in understanding.
Xena walked towards the water where Gabrielle was filling the last of the skins and stared sadly down at her young friend. "Gabrielle, I want you to go on to Athens without us," the warrior whispered.
The bard turned quickly. "What? No!" Xena, its just a contest. I want to stay here. Tarren needs "
The warrior raised her hand to silence her friend. "Tarren needs to know its not her fault that you missed the contest. I felt guilty for months myself last year. Do you want her to feel that way too?"
The bard shook her head "This is ridiculous. There will be other contests. THIS is important not the contest."
Xena placed a hand on her friends shoulder. "Gabrielle, that kid wants to leave right now just so you can make it to Athens. I know you want to stay with her, but she needs you to go to Athens more."
The bard wiped a tear from her face and looked at her friend "OK Xena, if thats what you think is best."
The warrior embraced the bard gently. "Yeah, its best but you better win," the warrior warned.
The bard nodded "Ill do my best, my warrior," she said with a sniffle and headed back to camp.
The bard knelt down beside Tarren, "Well, since you are in such great hands here, Ive decided to go on to Athens without you two."
The girls eyes opened wide, both happy and sad to see her friend go. "You and Xena will just have to cook for yourselves for a few days," Gabrielle said with a slight smile rubbing the childs cheek.
Tarren smiled a bit, "Dont worry, I have plenty of apples."
The bard laughed and gently kissed the girls forehead before grabbing her staff and satchel and heading for the road.
Xena followed behind her a bit. "This is a safe road, Gabrielle. YOU stay on it straight into Athens. We will meet you there in 5 days."
The bard hugged the great warrior, "Yes, Mother. Now you two take care of each other," she said with the shake of her finger.
The warrior bowed her head slightly to her friend. "Well be fine, my Amazon Queen."
Gabrielle smiled at the use of the title and started on her way. Xena watched her young friend trot unhappily down the road into Athens.
Xena sat beside Tarren and once again added a cool cloth to the shoulder. "So how are ya feeling?" she asked in a soft whisper.
The child bit her lip. "IT hurts, Xena," she said without hesitation.
The warrior nodded and reached for another mug of tea. " I know it does," she said softly.
"It doesnt hurt enough to want to drink more of that!" the youngster cried pointing to the mug. The warrior gave her a warning glance, and the child quickly opened her mouth to accept the awful medicine.
"Good girl!" the warrior whispered as she lay down next to her child.
"Xena?" the child called.
"Huh?" the warrior responded.
The warrior said nothing, but just draped a protective arm over the youngsters chest and waited for her to once again enter the land of Morpheous.
Chapter 3 Consequences
As the days passed, the girls strength returned and she was able to walk around camp easily. She no longer had need of the sling Xena had made for her arm.
It was then that they resumed their journey towards Athens. They were camped a days ride from the city in a small clearing by a river basin.
While starting a fire, Xena eyed the restless child. With her arm completely healed, the youngster was anxious for adventure. The warrior smiled a bit as the child did back flips and practiced routines with her chucks. She was full of energy and, as always, looking for trouble. The warrior sighed. It was time to deal with things.
"Tarren come over here," she said in a stern voice.
This was something that Xena was not looking forward to, but felt a responsibility to go through with. She had no anger. She had only love and concern for her childs safety. Being on the road gain, meant the rules had to be obeyed.
The child turned and, noting the warriors sour expression knew that her time of consequence had come.
The warrior mother motioned for the girl to sit beside her. Xena took a deep breath. "We need to clear the air about a few things that have happened lately. First of all, I want you to know that youre here with ME now, because that is where I want you to be, NOT because Nala made me take you. Your home is with me now, Tarren. It is something I want. Do you understand?" she said tenderly.
The child nodded and lowered her head, remembering the words she had not meant to speak days before.
"However, you do seem to have a real problem doing what I tell you to do, and that, little one, IS a problem we must unfortunately deal with."
The warrior stood and wrung her hands together while she paced. "I made you a promise about what would happen if you climbed those high trees again, and I need to keep that promise now," she said with a slight touch of remorse in her voice.
The girl stood and tried to make a sprint for the trees, hoping that a delay would defuse the warriors decision.
Xena caught her by the scruff of the neck and firmly placed her before her. "Now, trying to run away will only make it worse, Tarren," she said holding the child in place. "Come on," she said, pulling the small figure to a fallen log and dropping herself down. The warrior pulled the child over her knee. The youngster cried in protest and begged the warrior not to spank her.
Xena took a deep breath and shook her head, "Sorry, little one, but you had your chances. I am gonna leave my hand print on your bottom tonight, so you will never forget how your disobedience could have cost you your life. Your safety may not seem very precious to you, but it is very precious to me," she scolded. Then, her large hand fell swiftly and firmly.
Tarren cried as her mothers hand fell into a steady pattern of brisk slaps. Each time, the youngster gritted her teeth as the hand fell harder and faster. Once when she thought the spanking was over, Xena merely repositioned her and began anew, leaving the child sobbing under the unrelenting hand of the very determined warrior mother.
Xena cringed at the painful lesson she knew she had to teach her child about consequences. Yet, when she thought of what had happened to Tarren and what might have happened to her daughter, it only reaffirmed her need to continue. "It will be a month before this one even thinks of sitting, let alone climbing, those trees. She will never forget this. She will NOT make the same mistake again," she thought as she continued the punishment. When her hand had fallen in one final finishing WHACK, she gently lifted the youngster off her lap. Xena knew that the punishment had been harsh, but she needed to make sure Tarren understood that the road was not a place for playing games or taking unnecessary chances. If this child was to remain with her then disobedience was not an option.
There was fear and shame but no anger in the childs eyes as the youngster gently rubbed her tender bottom.
Xena met the blue gaze of the little girl without moving. "NOW, I will do this every day and every night until you get it through that thick skull of yours that YOU DO WHAT I SAY or you pay the price," she said, lightly tapping the girls bottom with the palm of her hand to emphasize the point.
The child winced, and the warrior nodded with satisfaction, walking towards the fire and throwing a few sticks on.
"Good, Now, maybe we can now go an entire week without having this same conversation. And another thing, IF you are hurt YOU tell me that you are hurt, so I can help you, Tarren. No punishment I could ever give you should be worth risking your life over. I care about you, and I only want you to be safe. Have ya got that?" she finished with an angry command, trying not to show her own tears.
Tarren nodded and then slowly slid past the warrior and headed down to the stream to be alone with her tears. The warrior did not follow.
Night came soon afterward. When Xena decided it was time for the child to return, she easily followed her tracks down to the waters edge Shed found her blankly staring out at the water, just as she had done back at Rasa.
"Come on, its time for bed," she said with a stern but gentle tone.
The girl shook her head.
Standing beside her, the warrior noticed that the youngsters face showed the path of fresh tears. Although she knew Tarren had been crying throughout the day, Xena felt only a little remorse. She could not get the image of the greater pain she had seen in her childs eyes after having fallen from the tree. Xenas heart only raced when she remembered how the youngster had tried to cover up her injuries rather than admit her mistake. That memory brought a rush of fear and pain through Xenas mind that little could soothe.
The warrior mother placed her hands on her hips in determination. "Tarren, I said its time for bed NOW!"
The girl looked up, her eyes full of tears, and shook her head. "NO! I dont want to go with you. I want to stay here."
Xena could not help but wince at the girls uncontrollable sobs. She knew the child was tired and upset and in pain, so she lifted the youngster into her arms and headed back for camp.
Tarren struggled in protest, but Xena merely pinned her against her chest and headed for the camp.
When they arrived, she gently placed the sobbing girl on her bedroll and removed her boots. She then tossed a blanket over her and slowly walked away. Xena studied the child who lay on her stomach still crying into her blankets. She wished Gabrielle were here to offer the little one some comfort since the Xena was obviously the last person she wanted around.
Xena placed her bedroll on the opposite side of the fire, deciding that a little distance was best. She tried to sleep but Tarrens constant tears kept her from finding peace. After listening to the heart-piercing sobs for what seemed like hours, the warrior mother growled slightly to herself and jumped up from her blankets. She dropped them next to Tarren and positioned herself closely to the youngster.
With a gentle yank the great warrior brought the child next to her. The girl struggled to free herself. "Stop it," Xena whispered as she held the child in a gentle embrace. Soon the girls struggling ceased, and Xena wrapped her arms around the weepy figure. The child nuzzled in close to the Xenas familiar form, burying herself in the comfort of her guardians arms.
"What am I gonna do with you?" she whispered, kissing the childs forehead and stroking her back to comfort her. Soon, the crying stopped, and the youngster was asleep. Xena lay there singing a lullaby, hoping it would help her daughter find more pleasant dreams.
When the child awoke the next morning, Xena was no where in sight. Fear shot through her mind, afraid the warrior had tired of her and moved on. Seeing Argo still tethered to nearby tree, she relaxed a bit.
Moments later, the warrior sprinted up the path with a rabbit in her hands. "Good morning," she said slowly looking over the girl.
The child nodded and murmured, "Good Morning I thought you ...left,"
Xena dropped the food at the fire to cook and stared, confused, at the child. "Why would you think that?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.
The child shrugged and returned to her blankets trying to hide her tears.
Xena lowered her self beside the girl and folded her long legs in front of her. "Tarren, I told you that I would never leave you, and I meant it. You are stuck with me, kid. That is a fact although, right now, I am not too sure that is something that makes you very happy," she said gently, shaking the girls arm but eliciting no response.
With an unhappy sigh, Xena returned to her cooking duties knowing that the child was still sulking about the spanking she had given Tarren the night before. "So, how do we start this day, Tarren? With a smile or with more tears? I leave that up to you," the warrior said quietly without moving from her cooking task.
The child stood and rubbed her now throbbing backside and considered the words. She did not speak and only stared at her companion.
Xena shook her head in frustration. "OK, so its the silent treatment. Have it your way. You will find that I am better at that game than you are, and its still a long way to Athens."
The warrior cooked the meal and then offered a plate to the child, who leaned up a tree as she ate. Xena had to hide a smile knowing that pose was the result of her handiwork.
"Well, I dont want to go all the way to Athens without talking to ya," the girl whispered with a sulk as she picked at the food.
Xena nodded. "Well neither do I. It would make for a very lonely trip," she agreed leaning up against the tree next to Tarren to enjoy her meal.
"Besides I would really miss hearing your voice." Xena said with a smile.
The girl opened her eyes wide as she could and looked up at her mother.
"Save the doe eyes, kid. Im onto it already." she said with a grin.
But Tarrens eyes did not waver. Her expression was pure and truthful.
Xena glanced at her and sighed, placing her plate on the ground at her feet and leaning on one arm to face the child. "Tarren, I certainly do NOT enjoy punishing you. Believe it or not it causes me a lot of pain too."
The small figure looked into the eyes of her warrior friend and biting her lip whimpered, "Well I dont enjoy it either, but you sure ARE good at it," she said with a sniffle, rubbing her sore bottom.
Xena nodded and then placed a tender arm around her youngster. "Well, if I didnt do a good job, you might not think that I am serious about what I am saying, and I think we both know JUST how serious I really am, huh?"
The child nodded. "Oh yeah! Youre serious!" she said frowning at the thought.
Xena grinned, placing a loving hand on the girls head. "Well good, Im glad you understand me. What do you say we try to behave ourselves for a while then? I think we would both be MUCH happier."
The girl swallowed and looked to her friend "I always TRY," she said with a slight grin.
The warrior shook her head and tasseled the childs hair. "Ya do, huh?" The girl nodded "So you had no idea that you werent supposed to be in that tree, and you really did not think Id want to know that you were hurt," the warrior said, her voice low and serious.
The child looked away, " I just didnt think ."
Xena finished the sentence, "You just didnt think youd get caught, so that made it all right?" As she said it, the warrior remembered her own childhood misdeeds.
"I guess," the child said wondering how the warrior always knew her thoughts.
"Well, ya got hurt, Tarren, and ya got caught, and you paid a very heavy price for that. Do you want to pay it again?" she asked quietly.
The child shook her head fighting back tears at the mere thought of a repeat performance.
"Well I dont want to see you pay it again either, so BEHAVE YOURSELF and LISTEN to what I SAY," Xena said, carefully singling out the meaning of each word.
Tarren tossed her empty plate to the ground and looked to her feet. She was just beginning to realize how much trouble she had really caused. Not only had she broken her promise to Xena. She had caused Gabrielle to have to go on alone to Athens, and throughout everything Xena had stayed with her and cared for her as she had always promised. She now KNEW that Xena kept her promises ALL of them. Tarren looked up at her friend with a slight smile. "I messed up, huh?"
"YUP!" Xena said with a nod and a grin. "But youre a kid, so you are allowed to mess up once in a while. Its just my job to make sure you dont make a habit of it," the warrior said with a slight smile. She then pulled the child closer to her.
Tarren giggled and gave the warrior a friendly poke in the ribs, "OH NO, I cant see you ever letting that happen."
Xena shook her head: "NOPE!"
The youngster shuffled her feet and then stared up at the warrior contritely. "Im sorry Xena."
The warrior nodded approvingly at the childs repentance. "Well, thats a good start, but dont ever do anything like that again!" she warned reaching playfully for the child. Xena held her daughter for a moment and then kissed the girls cheek gently.
"I wont climb the high trees, and I promise Ill tell you if Im hurt," the child said slowly staring at the warrior for approval.
Xena nodded, "Good then lets just consider this a lesson learned the hard way and put it behind us." She said dropping the youngster gently to the ground.
"Now, come on, lets get moving. Gabrielle is waiting for us. We are gonna have to walk fast, unless YOU want to ride Argo," she said with an evil grin. The girls face went white at the thought and the warrior motioned her forward with a smile." I was just kidding. Lets go."
The girl sighed with relief and then picked up her satchel and bedroll and took her place next to Xena.
The warrior placed a gentle arm around her child as they started down the path into Athens.
The travel was long and hard, but Xena was proud of the way Tarren kept up. She enjoyed these peaceful moments with the girl. It gave her an opportunity to spend time alone with her, to talk with her, and to get to know her daughter better.
"Xena what are we gonna do in Athens?" the girl asked kicking up the rocks in front of her as she walked.
The warrior tapped Argos reins against her chest in thought. "Well, we could do lots of things. First, we are going to see how Gabrielle is doing in the bard contest. After that, we could go to the festival. I know Gabrielle is gonna want to go to at least a few plays." The warrior sighed heavily at the thought of sitting through her friends favorite form of entertainment.
"Whats a play?" the child asked noting the warriors displeasure at the words.
Xena shrugged. "Its where a bunch of people get dressed up and pretend they are something they are not for two long hours. They sort of tell a story, but its not usually very good. But dont you dare tell Gabrielle I said that," the warrior warned stopping and pointing a warning finger at the girl.
"I wouldnt do that Xena," the youngster moaned hurt that her friend did not trust her.
Xena smiled and rubbed the girls head. "I know you wouldnt. Im sorry."
The child shrugged it off the apology. "What about the athletic competitions you told me about. Can we go to those?" Tarrens eyes lit up at the thought.
Xena herself had wanted to attend those. Gabrielle had always despised the athletic events, but sat through them just as she did the plays. The warrior was pleased that Tarren shared her interest.
"Sure. As a matter of fact, that is something just you and I could do together."
The little girls grin widened. "Just the two of us. Promise?" she said with a smile.
"I promise!" the warrior nodded.
The child looked at the tall woman beside her with wonder. Tarren truly loved Gabrielle, but she relished any time she could spend alone with the warrior. Getting to know Xena wasnt nearly as easy as the bard. Never before had anyone shown her such attention and care as these two woman did. Xena had stayed with her even when she was hurt. Even when she punished her somehow Tarren could feel her friends pain at performing the task. The youngster knew Xena really cared about her. She was like a friend and a guardian all rolled up into one person. She played with her and cared for her and never let her feel anything could ever harm her. Nala was too old to play with her, so Tarren had spent most of her time playing alone. With Xena and Gabrielle she felt as though she had a real family and real friends. Xena stared down into the face of the child wondering what had her so deep in thought.
"What?" the warrior asked.
The youngster shook her head. "Nothing...I was just thinking about Nala and about you."
Xena stopped and knelt to face the girl. Her smile faded, and she touched Tarrens face in understanding. "Hey, if you ever want to talk about Nala or anything else, I want you to promise that you will come to me, OK?"
The girl nodded. "I promise, but you have to promise the same?" the child said with a smile.
The warrior considered the words and grinned. "OK, youve got a deal." She offered the girl her hand, and they shook on it, sealing their promise as friends do.
Just as they approached the final hill above Athens, Xenas head snapped around, and she quickly grabbed her sword. "Tarren, get into the trees!" she ordered.
The child knew the warning meant trouble, so with a quick vault she landed in the branches just above Xena.
Noting the girl had made it to safety, Xena readied her sword for what she had smelled was coming.
Sure enough, seven men dressed in warrior garb fell from the bushes ahead. They wore the symbol of a raven with a dagger through it on their helmets.
"Traiger," the child whispered from the trees.
Xena too recognized the symbol and waved her sword in warning. "So boys, is there something I can do for you, or did you just stop to pass the time of day?" she purred.
The tallest man stepped forward. He was a young, tall and muscular figure. He removed his helmet and a wave of blond hair fell to the sides of his face. "I am Rendan, son of Traiger. We claim this path as our own in the name of Traiger the Mighty, so lay down your sword in surrender."
The warrior smiled a bit, "Well, well, well; first of all I think you are a little out of your jurisdiction. This is not even close to Traigers territory. Second, well I just dont give my sword to just anyone. "
Rendan angrily put his helmet on. "Get her!" he yelled and his men quickly advanced. One by one the men fell to the ground at Xenas mercy. Tarren watched in awe of the warriors great skill.
Finally, the young Rendan was the only one standing, and he froze in place as Xena caressed his neck with her blade.
"Now, do you know who I am?" she asked.
The man nodded fully aware of the Warrior Princess and her reputation. "Well, then, you go tell your daddy that I would be very unhappy to hear that the people of this area were stepping over trash like you on their way into this fine city. Ya got that?" she purred.
Again he nodded noting how close the tip of her blade was to his throat.
"And one more thing! Tell him he should never send a little boy to do a grown warriors work. Now get out of here before I get mad," she said sheathing her blade. The young man reached down for his sword but the warrior stepped on it, "No, no, sorry, children should not play with such sharp objects. Ya might cut yourself," she teased sending him on his way with the side of her boot. The other men quickly followed after him leaving the road clear. The warrior shook her head as she examined the young mans blade and then threw it into the brush hoping that the boy would not die in some foolish battle trying to prove he was worthy of such a weapon.
Tarren laughed a bit as she watched the warriors running through the woods.
"What are you laughing at?" the warrior asked grinning a bit as she signaled the child to return to the ground.
With a quick leap Tarren landed skillfully next to Xena. "I dont know. It was sort of funny to watch."
Xena quickly grabbed the girls tunic and held her slightly off the ground. "Tarren, a fight, any fight, is never funny. A person could easily be killed. I dont want you to ever forget that. EVERY opponent should be met with caution and respect. It is always wisdom before weapons, Tarren. Cockiness could get you killed understand?"
The child lowered her eyes and nodded. "I didnt mean anything by it Xena," she said as the warrior released her hold.
Xena sighed and placed a gentle hand on the girls shoulder. "I know, I know. I just want you to understand that fighting is NOT a game. People get hurt and they die in fights, even as silly as this one."
The warrior wrapped an arm around her youngster and pulled her into a hug as they walked. "What am I gonna do with you?" she asked, knowing the child has no real clue what she was trying to tell her.
The girl shrugged and yawned, not having an answer for her warrior friend.
Xena noted the second yawn. She had pushed the girl too hard and long, and it was starting to take its toll. They were still a good three hours outside of Athens.
The warrior stopped and lowered herself down. "OK, get on," she said motioning the child to hop on her back.
"Im OK, Xena," the child yawned.
The warrior smiled. "Yeah, sure I know, up ya go."
With a quick jump the girl settled herself on Xenas back, placing her arms around the warriors neck. Xena could barely feel the extra weight of the childs form on her back as she walked.
"Xena?" she called as they continued at a quicker pace.
The warrior turned her head a bit. "No, you can not put a saddle on me," she said with a grin.
The child laughed at the thought, but continued with her question. "Why were Traigers men here?"
Xena stopped and tilted her head back. "How did you know who they were?" she asked with surprise.
The child yawned, "Well I heard them tell you, and I saw the symbol on their helmets. Nala and I were in their camp for a while a long time ago. Nala said that Traiger was an old friend of my mothers, which is why he took us in."
Xenas eyes grew wide. She tried to hide her discomfort at the thought of Tarren being in the warlords camp. True, they had been allies once, but never really friends. He was a figure from her dark past and not one she wished Tarren to know. Xena knew that the time to tell the girl who she was would now come upon her faster than she has planned.
The warrior continued walking. "I dont know why they were here, but the important thing is they are gone now, right?" she said trying to force a smile.
The child nodded sleepily happy to accept no answer as an answer. "Sure Xena, if you say so." The girl leaned her head on the warriors shoulder settling herself for the ride.
"Well, I say so!" she yelled hoisting the child higher in the air.
Tarren giggled loudly. "You are more fun to ride than Argo," she laughed. The great war-horse whinnied in protest. The warrior and the child laughed in unison as they headed into Athens.
Chapter 4 Athens
By the time Xena entered the Inn where she and Gabrielle had agreed to meet, Tarren was already fast asleep. Xena had simply placed her small form over one shoulder holding her in place with her arm.
The innkeeper eyed the sleeping child with a grin.
"Something wrong?" the warrior asked, not liking the way he stared at the girl.
"Uh no, I was just thinking how the young one must be exhausted."
Xena noted the sleeping girl with a quick smile and responded without a waste of emotion. "Shes doing just fine. Now do you have a room waiting for us? Its listed under Gabrielle of Potedia."
Quickly the small, stout man reached for a key. "Oh yes, the young lady said youd be coming. She left you a note."
Xena sighed and the cherub of a man handed the large warrior a parchment.
"Dear Xena, I went to do some shopping. Be back soon. Get some rest and take a bath BOTH OF YOU! Love, Gabrielle"
The warrior princess shook her head and placed the note in her cuff. "Shopping. It figures," she muttered with a slight smile and then headed up the stairs to the room.
There was a large tub in the center of their room already filled with hot water. "Well, well, my bard, you do think of everything," she said with a broad smile. Xena gently lowered Tarren to the bed. "OK, your rides over." The warrior stood stretching out the muscles in her back and looking longingly at the bath water. She tapped Tarrens leg gently. "Come on, wake up . Were here."
With a yawn and a roll the child merely repositioned herself into a fetal position on the bed.
Xena smiled. "Oh no you dont! Not just yet. I know you can smell that bath water."
The girl opened one eye cautiously. "Bath water?" she groaned staring up at Xena. She picked her head up lazily from the bed and eyed her muscular friend. "A bath, Xena. Do I have to? Havent I suffered enough?" the youngster whined.
"Yes, you have too," the warrior moaned mocking the childs groan.
Tarren quickly pulled the blanket over her head and tried to go back to sleep.
Xena shook her head. "OK, so its the hard way today why not?" Xena lifted the girl from the blankets and with a quick toss had her standing on her feet. "Now, do you want to take your clothes off or do I have to do it?" she asked an evil smile.
"Oh, I dont want a bath!" the girl groaned kicking her boots off and trying to slip under the warriors arm back to the soft pallet.
Xena caught her by the scruff of her tunic. "No, no, no, NOT again," she said with a flashing smile quickly pulling the childs tunic off of her. Tarren giggled, ready for the chase, and sprinted to the far side of the bed.
It had been a long trip, and they both needed some relaxation, so the warrior decided to allow them both some fun.
"So you want to do it this way, huh?" Xena carefully edged her way closer to Tarren who quickly vaulted over the bed. Xena nodded approvingly. "Very good, but not quite good enough." With a quick flip Xena flew through the air landing right beside the child. With a fast whip of her hand she had the girl nestled in her muscular arm.
The girl giggled as she struggled to get free. "Oh, still not ready to give up huh?" the warrior cackled.
Tarren shook her head, and Xena flipped the girl over holding her in the air by one leg. She then started to tickle the bottom of the childs foot.
Tarren screamed and laughed as the blood rushed to her head. While the youngster squirmed to get lose, Xena quickly removed her long breeches and tossed them to the side.
"I give up! I give up!" the child cried as the warrior started to tickle her bare legs. "Please Xena, Ill get in the tub. I promise."
Xena eyed her child who was now panting for mercy. "Promise?" the warrior, said with a wicked smile. The girl nodded and the warrior lowered her gently to the floor. "OK then, but you better be in that tub before I am," she warned as she started to remove her leathers.
Tarren smiled and with lightening speed removed her remaining clothes and made a large dive into the large tub splashing water all over the proud warrior. "Im in! the girl said with a playful grin.
The warrior turned a warning gaze on the laughing youngster as she wiped the water from her face. "So you want to play, do you?" she said in a menacing tone. The warrior removed the last of her clothing and jumped in the tub pinning the child up against the side of it with her muscular arm. She then began the torturous tickling once again, and this time closed an ear to the childs pleas for mercy.
Tarren cried in agony as the warrior held her in place running her fingers lightly along the childs arms and side.
"Bad girl!" Xena exclaimed playfully. "Now, are you gonna behave, or do I have to get tough?" she warned with a wicked smile.
The girl coughed from exhaustion and nodded hoping the warrior would let her go and she did.
Tarren quickly moved to the other side of the tub and glared angrily at the warrior who only smiled with satisfaction. "Thats not fair. You are much bigger than I am." The youngster pouted.
Xena shrugged her shoulders and smiled. "Ahhhh, well then maybe you should pick on someone you can handle next time."
The child folded her arms sulking at the warriors lack of compassion. Xena felt a little remorse for the elongated revenge. "OK, Im sorry. Come here."
The child hesitantly moved toward her large friend who gently pulled her closer. "Come on lets get clean before Gabrielle gets back," she said tossing a dry cloth on the childs head while she reached for the soap.
The girl pulled the cloth off and quickly soaked it in the water. When the warrior turned around she tossed it at Xenas head, and it landed with a SPLAT on the muscular womans nose. "You did not just do that?" the warrior said evenly removing the soppy rag from her face. The girl giggled and answered her warrior friend with a quick splash of water in the face. Xena nodded in understanding "OK, you asked for it, but no more mercy for you," she said with a grin. In moments splashing water and laughter filled the room.
As Xena and Tarren dressed, they eyed the room and noticed that the floor all around the tub was soaking wet. "Boy, Gabrielles gonna be mad at you," the girl said with a grin.
The warrior gazed down at the child. "Yeah, but dont worry. Ill see you share in ALL the glory," the warrior laughed.
The girl giggled as she pulled her boots on knowing that she would indeed share in the glory.
Xena brushed the water from her mane and then turned her attention to Tarren who was still trying to dry her hair with a towel. Xena seated herself in a straight back chair in the corner and motioned the child over. "Come here."
The girl stood in front of the warrior and allowed her to brush the wet tangles from her head. She leaned on the warriors chest a bit to steady herself. "Xena, can I ask you a question?"
"Uh huh," she replied still working on a mess of tangles with the heavy brush.
"How do you know when a person needs something?"
Xena paused at her task and studied the girl "What do you mean?"
Tarren thought about the question. She had been considering Nalas request to give Xena her diary when she "needed it most," but did not know how to KNOW when that was.
"Well, I mean how do you know when a person needs something -- like when you said Gabby needed to be left alone, or a person needs a hug?"
Xena smiled and continued her task. "Well that depends on the need and the person Tarren. Sometimes a person will tell you what they need, and other times you can tell from their body language. Like if someone is angry then its usually a sign that need to be left alone a bit. If theyre sad then maybe they need comfort. Theres no sure-fire way to know Tarren. You study people and do your best to do the right thing. Why do you need something?" the warrior asked with a questioning smile.
Tarren shook her head. "No, I have you and Gabby and my stuff. I guess thats all I need," she said lost deep in her own thoughts.
Xena smiled and caressed the girls cheek affectionately. She was happy to know that, in the short time they had been together, Tarren had come to accept both she and Gabrielle as her family.
The child stared into the warriors eyes for a long moment. "Xena is there anything you ever need?" she asked her voice filled with a childs concern.
The warrior thought for a moment. "Yeah I need that hug you mentioned."
The girl grinned widely and threw her arms around the warriors neck allowing her to squeeze the girl into a gentle bear hug. Tarren still had no clue as to when to give Xena the diary, but at the moment it really didnt seem to matter.
Xena paced around impatiently waiting for the shopping bard to return. She instructed Tarren to take a nap, which the child seemed reluctant to do.
"Im not tired anymore," she said lying on her stomach kicking her foot over the side of the pallet.
Xena shook her head in frustration. "Yes, you are. Just try to go to sleep."
The girl shook her head. "I did and I cant. Why dont YOU take a nap?" the youngster giggled.
The warrior stopped and studied the restless little form on the bed. "I know where this is going, and I am not taking a nap," the warrior said shaking her finger in the air as she continued to pace.
The child folded her arms under her chin. "Me neither," she said resolving herself to staring at the floor.
Xena threw her hands up in frustration. "All right, I will lie down with you until you fall asleep."
The child grinned in victory as the warrior placed her sword and chakram on the table beside the bed and then eased herself next to the child. Tarren nuzzled herself comfortably into the warriors side, and Xena smiled wrapping her muscular arms around her daughter.
"You are such a spoiled brat," she said teasingly ruffling the childs head.
The girl grinned widely but said nothing. Xena actually enjoyed these moments, but she really felt more comfortable when Tarren sought her out.
Within moment the youngster was asleep and Xena lay there stroking the girls head humming a song that brought back pleasant memories of her own childhood.
Gabrielle pushed the door open and barely made it in the room with all her packages spilling out of her hands. When she managed to find what she thought was the table she dropped them, but her aim was off and the bundles landed on the floor. "Oh Zeus!" she cried. As she started to pick them up she quickly noticed the two sleeping forms in the large pallet. The bard smiled at the peaceful sight and sighed happily. She then noticed the wet floor around the tub.
"XENA!" she yelled bringing the warrior quickly to her feet sword in hand. "What happened to this floor?" the small bard demanded arms folded.
The warrior angrily dropped her sword to the table. "Gabrielle you know better than to do THAT!" the warrior admonished.
The bard noted the warriors tense form and took a step back. "Sorry! Now please, tell me what happened to the floor in here?"
Tarren shook the sleep from her eyes. "I think the tub leaks, Gabby. You really should complain," the child whispered through her pillow. The bard gave a gentle nod to the youngster and a quick stare at Xena who was smiling with satisfaction at the childs quick thinking.
"Leaks, huh? OK, thats ONE possibility," the bard said suspiciously as she paced the floor scanning all the evidence. "OR someone could have had a water fight in here, but I know that the Warrior Princess would never allow that behavior at an INN, so the tub must leak." Gabrielle studied her warriors guilty face. "Well I better go downstairs and give that innkeeper a piece of my mind." The bard started towards the door, but was quickly halted by Xenas grip.
"OK, OK, so there was a small water fight," she admitted.
The bard playfully poked her in the ribs. "I KNEW it! she yelled triumphantly. Gabrielles frown turned into a scolding grin. "The least you two could have done is wait for me," the bard said with a smile hugging the warrior. "I have missed you both so much. How are Tarrens wounds?"
Xena smiled and sighed with relief. "We missed you too, and that child has amazing recuperative powers," she said with a grin returning the bards embrace. Tarren stayed wrapped in her blankets ignoring the sentimental exchange.
"Hey arent you even going to say hello?" the bard chided leaning towards the sleeping form. The girl made no sound or movement. Gabrielle folded her arms and then crawled on the bed next to the child. "Hello!" she said playfully swatting the childs bottom. Tarren jumped out of the bed quickly rubbing the still very tender spot. "OUCH!"
The bard looked to Xena who only shrugged. "Well, I wont ask if you and Tarren had a chance to talk about the consequences of climbing those trees or how important it is to tell us when she is hurt. Obviously you did," the bard said evenly.
Xena smiled wickedly and sat back on the bed. "Oh yeah, Id say we covered that point quite extensively." The girl glared at the bard whose face was now full of sympathy.
"Im sorry, honey. I didnt mean to hurt you," she said pulling the girl into a tender embrace. "Are you OK? Hows your arm and your shoulder?"
The little girl frowned a bit. "My arm and my shoulder are fine. Xena fixed them." She said proudly.
"But I dont have to sit on them! Xena fixed that too." The child groaned still cautious of another attack. The bard sensed her discomfort and offered her a gentle smile.
"Hey did you miss me?"
The child thought about it for a long moment and gave Xena a quick wink. "Just your cooking!"
Gabrielle poked her gently in the side. "You are as bad as she is," she said pointing to the reclining warrior with a grin.
Tarren smiled, "Im only kidding I missed ya, Gabby. I missed ya a lot." The childs words were filled with heartfelt emotion, and the bard hugged the girl for a long moment before releasing her.
"Good, because you two are not gonna get rid of me so easy again!" she said wiping a tear from her eye as she looked at the faces of her two friends.
Xena stood from the bed stretching out her muscles. "OK, thats enough of this mushy stuff. For once I AM starving. Lets go get something to eat, and you can tell us how the contest has been going.
The bard nodded and grabbed Tarrens hand to lead her to the tavern below.
Xena paused and looked at the plethora of packages the bard had accumulated in only a few days. She shook her head wearily. "Not on my horses back, Gabrielle," She whispered to the empty room as she headed after her companions.
Down at the inn Xena found a table in the back up against the wall. The instinct to always be prepared and watch for danger would always be with her. Gabrielle sat quickly, eager to tell her tales of the city.
Tarren just eyed the wooden chair and sighed. "Xena Id rather eat in the room."
The warrior grinned at the dilemma and offered the child her hand. "Come here, brat," she said affectionately reaching out her hand to the youngster. Tarren willingly accepted the warriors offer to sit on her softer lap instead of on the hard chair.
Gabrielle could only smile at the former warlord, Xena, Warrior Princess, acting so tenderly and caring towards this child.
The warrior caught the bards smile and twisted her lips in a slight frown. "Not a word Gabrielle. Not a word!" she said with a flashing smile.
Gabrielle threw her hands up in surrender knowing this was not something to tease her friend about.
The innkeeper came over and Xena ordered stew for all and a mug of ale for herself, and a mug of cider for the bard. She then smiled and asked for a mug of fresh milk for Tarren.
"Milk?" the innkeeper, said with a frown.
Tarren nodded in agreement. "Yeah, milk, Xena?" she said in disgust. Xena glared at both of them.
"YES, milk!" she ordered.
The innkeeper shrugged and turned to fill the order.
"Xena, I dont like milk," the girl whined.
"Well, you dont get any of it on the road, so you will drink it when we can get it."
The child scrunched her lips in a face of disgust, but said nothing.
Gabrielle patted the girls hand. "Hey, Xena is right. You need to drink your milk. Dont you want to grow up and be as big and strong as Xena?"
Tarren smiled and turned her head to study the warriors muscular shoulders. "I dont think milk is gonna do that for me, Gabrielle," she said with a mischievous grin.
Xena shook her head and smiled. "You are just so funny, little one," she said as she reached over to tickle her sides. Soon all three friends were laughing.
When the food and drinks arrived, Tarren eyed the milk cautiously. She decided it was best to leave it to sit for a while. "Hey Gabby, you sure you dont want some of this? You might grow a bit, too," she said teasingly.
Xena drank her ale trying not to let the bard see her grin.
"Very funny. Ya know, you even sound more like Xena every day," she said with a wry smile pointing a finger at the warrior. Tarren and the warrior exchanged a wink.
"Thanks!" the child, said simply before diving into the stew before her.
The warrior and bard merely gave each other a satisfying smile knowing that Tarrens relaxed nature was a sign that she was truly becoming a part of their lives.
Gabrielle talked for hours about the bard contest. She had made it to the final rounds and would be reading her story before the entire city in two days along with the other finalists. Xena nodded approvingly happy that her friends great talents were being recognized.
Gabrielle noted the full glass of milk on the table and pointed to it. "You havent had any milk, Tarren," she said with a frown.
"Im not thirsty," the child said leaning back against the warriors chest for comfort.
"Drink it," Xena whispered in her ear.
The girl frowned and took a sip of the vile mixture spitting it out as fast as she had swallowed it and coughing wildly. Xena patted her back as the bard wiped her face.
"Whats wrong?" the bard asked her face filled with worry.
Xena picked up the mug and sniffed the milk. It was sour probably a week old. She lifted the girl off her lap and stood to her full height, slowly walking over to the bartender and putting the mug down before him.
"I told you I wanted fresh milk," she said with a steady glare.
"Well, its the freshest I have. It wont kill the kid," he replied ignoring the warriors obvious anger.
Xena quickly drew her sword and pressed the tip to the mans throat, "Drink it!" she ordered.
The man shook his head. "I hate milk."
The warrior looked at his bony form. "Figures Drink it anyway, JUST for me! It wont kill you right, but I might," she purred.
The man reached for the mug and drank half the contents down gagging on it.
"No, no, no! Didnt your mother ever tell you to always finish your milk? Now drink!"
The man felt the point of the steel piercing his throat. So he quickly finished the milk and fell to the floor spitting it up as fast as he had drunk it.
Xena sheathed her sword and looked over at him. "Now, tomorrow I expect there will be fresh milk right?" she said with a smile as the man groaned behind the bar.
He quickly nodded to the warrior who smiled with satisfaction. "Good!" She returned to the table and gave the child a mug of cider to replace the bad milk.
The girls white face turned quickly into a smile as she drank down the sweet tasting cider.
Xena shook her head at the bard who merely offered her friend a knowing smile.
Xena and Gabrielle spent the day trying to follow Tarren around the city. She had never been to Athens and wanted to see and touch everything around her. The day ended with Gabrielles agenda, which much to Xenas dismay included a late play.
"Now Xena, I chose a play that I know you will like."
The warrior frowned as they entered the playhouse. The bard gave her a gentle poke in the ribs. "Hey, you promised to be open minded."
The warrior nodded. "OK, whats it called?" she said with a slight grin.
Gabrielle stopped and allowed herself a satisfying smile as she announced the title, "The Fall of Caesar."
The warrior nodded approvingly. "Hmm, maybe this wont be so bad after all."
Tarren watched the exchange wishing they could go see the games or be at the festival.
Gabrielle noted the childs dissatisfied look and unusual silence and gave her a warning glare. "And as for YOU, children are not usually allowed in these plays. I had to do some fast-talking to get you in here, so I want you to behave yourself and pay attention to the play, OK?" the bard finished.
The girl nodded. "Yeah unless you want me to meet you at the festival. I could make that sacrifice," she said hoping her eager smile would free her from the promised misery.
Xena shook her head and smiled wishing she too could be at the festival. "Oh no ya dont. If I have to go then you have to go. Besides, if you think I would ever let you run lose alone in this city, then you were drinking out of the WRONG mug at the inn."
The childs shoulders slumped in defeat, and the warrior could only smile.
Two hours later, a chatty bard and a frustrated warrior left the same way they had entered. In Xenas arms was the sleeping form of a youngster barely 11 summers. "Xena, I had no idea that it was a comedy. I swear," the bard argued. The warrior merely studied the child in her arms and envied her ability to sleep through most of the play without being noticed by the bard.
"Hmm funny thing is Gabrielle that I wasnt laughing at Caesars fall."
Gabrielle stopped and faced her friend. "Look it was a metaphor, a play on words."
Xena stared down at her young friends eager face. "Gabrielle, the entire play was about whether or not Caesar would fall off a chair."
The bard frowned and nodded. "OK, OK, so it wasnt the best play, but the next one will be better."
The warrior cringed at the thought of another, but held tightly to her promise to sit through a second one before they left Athens.
"Maybe we should ask a member of a younger generation what she thought of the play," the bard said with a smile poking at the yawning child in the warriors arms. "Come on, Tarren, be honest. Tell us what YOU thought of the play," the bard asked with a smile waiting anxiously for a reply.
The warrior stopped and placed the yawning child on her feet. Tarren looked at Xena and then the bard stretching her arms up in the air. "Oh I liked it, Gabrielle, but I would have changed it a bit to make it more fun," she said with a smile.
The bard pointed at the child. "You see, Xena, Tarren can appreciate the artistry, and she even has thoughts on improvements."
Xena frowned and shook her head in disbelief. "OK Tarren, how would you have made that play fun?" the warrior asked folding her arms tightly anxious for an answer.
The child again stretched out her arms and faced her friends excited to offer her suggestions. "Well, I kept thinking how much better it would be if Xena had flung her chakram at the left pillar just as Caesar sat down in the chair. It would have bounced off the pillar hit the back walls and then sliced the legs off the chair. Then Caesar would have fallen in the first act and we could have left hours ago."
The warrior laughed loudly and tasseled the childs hair, "Ya know, that might have worked, but it may have had to bounce off the right pillar to get all four legs."
The bard nodded her head frustration filling her young face. "OK, you two, laugh ALL you want."
Tarren touched the bards arm gently. "Well, Gabby, you said it was a comedy. Arent we supposed to laugh?" she asked with all the innocence of her youth.
The bard studied the youngsters eyes and giggled. "I give up on you two. You are both impossible," she said poking the childs side playfully. "Come on, lets get back to the inn. I am starving," the bard said with a wide grin.
The warrior smiled. "Of course you are, my bard."
Tarren stopped and lifted her arms up towards the warrior who only shook her head and smiled lifting the child into the air. "YOU are only gonna get fat and lazy if you keep this up," the warrior scolded.
"Oh, youd never let that happen, princess," she said smiling at the warrior who lifted her higher in the air. "Go higher!" the child begged laughing happily as Xena tossed her quickly into the air above catching her just before she touched the ground.
"Enough!" the warrior said sternly lowering Tarren to the ground. "Start walking or next time you carry me."
The child threw her hands up in surrender. "Ill walk ...as a matter of fact Ill run." With a quick sprint the youngster took off and vaulted in an arial somersault as she ran to the inn.
The warrior stopped and smiled at the childs acrobatic moves. "Where does she find the energy?" she said shaking her head.
The bard smiled. "Gee, I dont know. Could it possibly be inherited?" the bard giggled.
Xena shrugged her shoulders and grinned at her young friend.
As they continued their walk, the bards voice grew a bit more serious. "How are YOU doing, Xena?" she said studying her friend.
The warrior shrugged. "Me? Im fine," she replied evenly.
Gabrielle stopped her with a hand. "Xena, I know that what you went through with Tarren was tough. Seeing her hurt and all. Are you OK?" the bard asked with obvious concerned.
The warriors smile faded a bit. "Look Gabrielle, it happened. She didnt listen, and she got hurt. She got punished for that, and it wont happen again. Done over, finished," the warrior said with finality.
The bard nodded again. "Xena, its me you are talking to, remember?"
The warrior looked into the eyes of her best friend and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Gabrielle, I am fine, really I am. I have it all under control. I promise," the warrior said with a smile.
Gabrielle nodded allowing her friend to hold her feelings inside. Noticing the warriors now sullen expression, the bard quickly changed the subject. "You know, you are really great with her."
Xena shrugged but the bard continued. "No, I mean it, Xena. You really are great with her. Look at that kid. She is happy and full of life, and she loves you. THAT is plain to see," Xena smile returned, and she looked down at her friend. "Thanks" was all she wanted to say or the bard needed to hear.
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